12 of North America’s Best Beach Boardwalks

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Bucket List Worthy  

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

A town’s boardwalk has become the place-to-be in many North American beach communities, offering everything from world-famous eats to thrilling rides, scenic views, nightlife and unexpected oddities. And whether you’re searching for a family-friendly boardwalk to visit the summer or one to let loose and live the beach bum lifestyle for a while, you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for at one of these 12 bustling beach boardwalks.

#1. Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California

Photo credit: Ashley Rose
Photo credit: Ashley Rose

The “Coney Island of the West” has become one of the best family-friendly boardwalks in North America with exciting kid-friendly carnival rides and the famous Looff Carousel that dates all the way back to 1911.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Bring the kids by Marini’s Candies to watch the workers make their famous chocolate-covered treats including chocolate-covered bacon.

— Don’t forget to purchase your family photo taken atop the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster — your terrified faces are guaranteed to make everyone smile for years to come.

#2. Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Photo credit: Fintrvlr
Photo credit: Fintrvlr

The Atlantic City Boardwalk, constructed in 1870, is as popular among kids and adults today as the day it first opened. With massive arcades, tons of beach shops, live music, towering hotels, world-famous casinos and plenty of neon lights, the Atlantic City Boardwalk is a beach-side playground for kids and adults alike.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Enjoy a romantic boardwalk tour in a classic rolling wicker chair that dates all the way back to the boardwalk’s first days.

#3. Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York

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If you haven’t been to Coney Island yet — or if you just haven’t been back in a while — the summer of 2014 is the time to visit. With the Luna Park amusement park opening on Memorial Day and the brand-new Thunderbolt coaster blasting riders into the air at 65 miles per hour, 2014 is guaranteed to be the most thrilling year at the Coney Island Boardwalk yet.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Don’t forget to grab a Nathan’s Famous hot dog, and if you’ll be visiting around the Fourth of July, don’t miss the unforgettable Nathan’s hot-dog-eating contest.

#4. Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Beach, Virginia

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This 5-kilometer-long concrete boardwalk is known for its convenient bike path (and plenty of bike rental shops), plentiful live music venues, museums, sculptures, thrilling rides and top-quality fishing. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk’s enticing combination of history and pop culture makes it one of the best boardwalks to visit in North America.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Bring your camera because dolphins love to play in the ocean waters off the coast of Virginia Beach.

— Kids and adults both enjoy cruising along in the four-seated surrey bikes for rent on the boardwalk.

#5. The Seawall, Vancouver, British Columbia

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This 22-kilometer path may not be teeming with neon lights, carnival rides or world-famous hot dogs, but it’s one of the most picturesque boardwalks in the world for walking, cycling and skating. While it’s certainly not structured like many of North America’s other boardwalks, the Vancouver Seawall dates all the way back to 1917 when oceanfront boardwalks were just starting to spring up across the United States and Canada.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— The Seawall spans from Ambleside Park to Dundrave. Dundrave is a perfect place to shop, grab a cup of coffee or enjoy a meal before heading back to the park.

#6. Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, Hollywood, Florida

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Hollywood Beach — conveniently located between the happening Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale and Miami — offers one of the most beautiful boardwalks in the world from the terracotta-colored bricks to the turquoise ocean waters. With plenty of five-star restaurants located just steps from the ocean, kids can play in the sand while parents enjoy a distinctive meal.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Stop by Josh’s Organic Market on weekends for fresh fruits, veggies and smoothies.

— Stay at one of Hollywood Beach’s small inns located right on the boardwalk for that classic, old-time beach boardwalk feeling.

#7. Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Photo credit: Sid Sowder
Photo credit: Sid Sowder

Myrtle Beach has long been a popular family vacation destination along the southern east coast of the U.S., but the addition of the Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade in 2010 has turned it into one of the best beach destinations in North America. This 1.9-kilometer wooden boardwalk features shops, restaurants, bars, live entertainers, musicians and a weekly fireworks display that simply shouldn’t be missed.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Be sure to attend Ocean Boulevard’s Hot Summer Nights concert series Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Plyler Park between June 1 and August 31.

— Shop for souvenirs at the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove — a 30,000-square-foot gift store that spans eight levels and offers every beach accessory and gift you can imagine.

#8. Hampton Beach Boardwalk, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

Photo credit: John DiRusso
Photo credit: John DiRusso

The Hampton Beach Boardwalk may favor relaxation over thrilling rides, but it can be the perfect North American beach boardwalk destination for more laid-back families and couples. The Hampton Beach Boardwalk isn’t starved of excitement though, with plenty of live music, arcades, fast foods and fine dining, you can sculpt your New Hampshire beach vacation just the way you like it.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Check out a free live concert at The Seashell any night of the week all summer long.

#9. Old Orchard Beach Boardwalk, Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Photo credit: Mike Timberlake
Photo credit: Mike Timberlake

The Old Orchard Beach Boardwalk may be small, but it packs a lot of punch, especially with the jam-packed wooden pier featuring restaurants, shops, game rooms and plenty of fun for the whole family. Visit the boardwalk’s Palace Playground — the only ocean-front amusement park remaining in New England.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

—  Once you’ve worn out Palace Playground, head over to Funtown Splashtown USA (upper New England’s largest amusement park and water park) just a few minute’s drive from the boardwalk.

— Old Orchard Beach’s spring and fall visitors enjoy heavy discounts on accommodations, activities and meals.

#10. Carolina Beach Boardwalk, Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Photo credit: Mike Burton
Photo credit: Mike Burton

The small Carolina Beach Boardwalk — home to the world famous Britt’s Donut Shop — is still a relatively uncrowded family vacation destination that offers low prices and big excitement with tons of boardwalk shops, casual restaurants and carnival rides. Visit Carolina Beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day and enjoy weekly fireworks, live concerts, outdoor bingo and family-fun night.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Carolina Beach also offers free outdoor movies at the Carolina Beach Lake Park starting at dusk on Sunday nights throughout the summer.

— After you grab a six-pack of donuts, shop at the boardwalk’s unique boutique-style shops like Fuzz Love and No Problem Islandware.

#11. The Beaches, Toronto, Ontario

Photo credit: Amal Rajakaruna
Photo credit: Amal Rajakaruna

Toronto locals have long been seeking solitude at The Beaches — a quaint section of the city with a 7-kilometer-long boardwalk featuring picturesque views of Lake Ontario. There’s arguably no better place in the city to take a romantic walk, stroll with your dog or simply veer off path for a laid-back game of beach volleyball.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

Bring your pet to The Beaches, because this cozy beach town is definitely dog friendly with just about as many places for dogs to get homemade snacks as humans.

#12. Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

Photo credit: jon burns
Photo credit: jon burns

When the Gulf Coast of Texas was craving a beachfront amusement park, the Kemah Boardwalk delivered. Created in 1998, this somewhat new (and quite commercial) boardwalk is 100-percent family friendly featuring a thrilling 96-foot-tall coaster (the Boardwalk Bullet), a classic carousel, towering Ferris wheel and tons of carnival-style rides for all ages.

Other Boardwalk Perks:

— Spoil the kids with a thrilling ride on the Boardwalk Beast — a high-speed motorboat that thrills riders with music, entertainment and of course, speed.

— The Kemah Boardwalk’s convenient location just 20 minutes from Houston makes it a convenient addition to an already-planned Houston vacation.

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About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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